Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from my colleague.
I will speak to the amendment to Bill C-56, which states:
...this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-56, an act respecting assisted human reproduction, since the principle of the bill does not recognize the value of non-embryonic stem cell research which has had great advancements in the last year.
As my colleague pointed out, this is really one of the main points which was in the official opposition report to the health committee that studied the draft bill: that we have a three year moratorium on embryonic stem cell research, that we proceed with caution on these serious and grave ethical matters, and that in areas like adult stem cell research where the potential is quite frankly limitless at this point and is unknown, let us use these three years to really examine those alternatives. As the former leader of the opposition, Preston Manning, used to say, where there is an ethical route and a scientific route that converge, that is the route that should be taken.
I do want to quote extensively from an article in the New York Times of March 7, 2002, because it does point to some of the potential of adult stem cell research. It stated:
Adding an important piece to the rapidly changing picture of human stem cells, researchers have found that cells from the blood can regenerate not just the blood supply, but tissues of the skin, liver and gut.
This means that adult stem cells may actually be very potent, which was previously thought to be a criteria that applied only to embryonic cells.
The finding strengthens the emerging view that the body may possess a cache of universal repair cells that could patch up almost any damaged tissue. These repair cells, probably located in the bone marrow and fairly easy to harvest, can move out into the bloodstream and help regenerate any tissue that signals it is in distress.
Such a theory is far from proved, but if true could lead, some scientists believe, to new therapies aimed at enhancing the natural process.
This could be a possible answer to the pleas from people who, as all of us do, know people who suffer from degenerative diseases like Parkinson's. This could be the hope for them. The embryonic stem cells are being held out as the only hope for them when in fact there could be another hope for them in dealing with these diseases.
The article goes on to quote Dr. Helen Blau, a stem cell expert at Stanford University, who stated:
This appears to be a regenerative response we were never previously aware of. It suggests there may be a repair mechanism that goes on throughout life but is insufficient in major disease. If we could amplify this mechanism it could become a whole new form of medicine based on using the body's own cells to treat disease.
Some researchers even say that we should do the embryonic stem cell research because we need that as a comparative study for adult stem cell research, but again, in an area ethically fraught with danger, we believe we should proceed with caution.
I want to continue quoting this article because it is interesting. It stated:
The new finding is based on patients who received transplants of blood-forming cells from relatives after cancer treatments that had destroyed their own bone marrow cells.
...In a similar study reported this January, patients' own cells were found to have become incorporated in transplanted hearts. But this is the first report that human donor stem cells, presumably from the bone marrow, can populate several different kinds of tissue.
There is another quote, from a Dr. Donald Orlic of the National Institutes of Health, the advisory board to the president, who stated:
What is so good about this study is that it is showing bone-marrow derived stem cells demonstrating a high degree of plasticity because they have repopulated three organs.
Stated the article:
Plasticity is the stem cell's ability to become several types of mature cell.
Biologists have believed until recently that each tissue in the body has its own dedicated source of stem cells that repair just that tissue. While this idea still seems true, bone marrow has begun to emerge as a source of general purpose stem cells that work to repair damage wherever it occurs. It is not clear if the system of stem cells found in particular tissues is entirely separate, or somehow dependent on the bone marrow system.
What does seem clear is that the bone marrow stem cells are far more versatile than the tissue specific stem cells.
Physicians have already learned how to make the blood-forming stem cells rush out of the marrow into the bloodstream by injecting a person with a natural factor or cytokine called GCSF. The stem cells can then be harvested from a donor's bloodstream and used instead of a marrow transplant.
The patients studied by [this] team received blood-borne cells harvested from their donors in this way. Though the cells that contributed to the patients' skin, gut and liver presumably came from the donors' bone marrow, this has not been proved.
This suggests that there needs to be more research in this area to see exactly what the potential is.
The article went on and stated:
But experiments with mice have revealed the bone marrow as a source of versatile stem cells that can incorporate into several tissues, including the heart.
Bone marrow stem cells may in fact repair many, if not all, tissues and perhaps on a daily basis. But the repair system obviously fails to cope quickly enough with major damage, such as the loss of tissue in heart attacks. Perhaps, with the use of cytokines like GCSF, the marrow repair system could be brought to bear in many types of disease.
The...researchers said they were considering several such approaches, including collecting marrow cells from a donor's blood and injecting them directly into a damaged organ. “We might see the first clinical data in two or three years,” Dr. Körbling said. Dr. Orlic is working along these same lines and plans to see if GCSF-induced marrow cells can reverse heart attacks in rhesus monkeys before testing the approach in people.
It seems to me that particularly when we are embarking upon this new area of research where we have great potential in adult stem cell research, we ought to focus our efforts and resources in that area rather than embarking upon the ethically fraught area of embryonic stem cell research. That brings me back to a point I made in my previous speech. The bill fails to include or refer to arguments of first principle, that is, we are discussing issues on the surface without defining some of the most fundamental things before we get into those arguments.
The official opposition has asked that the preamble be amended by including the phrase “the dignity of and respect for human life”. That needs to be in the bill. It was in the Liberal majority report. It was in the official opposition's minority report and it needs to be in the forefront of the bill. It also needs to be in clause 22 of the bill as the primary objective of this new assisted human reproductive agency. It needs to have that as a guideline.
I come back to the whole issue that was highlighted, as I mentioned before, in the discussion between Preston Manning and Ms. Françoise Baylis from Dalhousie University. Ms. Baylis stated:
The first thing to recognize in the legislation and in all of your conversations is that embryos are human beings. That is an uncontested biological fact. They are a member of the human species. What is contested is their moral status. The language we use there is technical and that's where we talk about persons.
Therefore, the distinction for her is the distinction between a human being, which an embryo is, and a human person, but what has to be done in the bill and throughout the land on all of these life issues, I think, is that we then must distinguish between a human person and a human being, if there is a distinction. Maybe there is not a distinction. That is the debate we need to have in this place.
Ms. Baylis stated:
I think what becomes very clear is that when you're talking about embryos, you don't need to have a debate about whether or not they're human or human beings. The answer's yes. That's a biological claim. The term “person”, however, is not a biological term. It is not a term about which there are facts. It's a moral term. It's a value-laden term about which people will disagree, and they will then point to facts to try to tell you that their definition is the right one.
It seems to me that this is the main issue for us to debate here. Quite frankly I am not one who will stand in the House and say I know all the answers as to what exactly makes up a human person and a human being, but I have studied the issue. I have read the words of people like George Grant, one of the most pre-eminent Canadian philosophers of all time, who said this is the most fundamental question for any society because it impacts on so many other pieces of legislation and it impacts on how we value human life. He said that we have to decide what it is that is common to human beings and yet unique to them, so that we can stand up and say we have a charter of rights that says human persons have a right to life.
If human persons have a right to life, then we had better justify why it is they have that right to life. Is it the exercise of reason? Is it the capacity to exercise reason? Is it free will? Is it the capacity to exercise free will?
We have to decide exactly why it is we say that human beings or human persons have a right to life and the right not to be deprived thereof, or that for certain things such as an embryo, even an excess embryo created through IVF, somehow we can destroy that life and use it for research purposes. We need to answer that very fundamental question and debate that question in the House before we decide on what particulars the bill will have. That is the main point. That is why the official opposition has introduced this amendment, quite frankly: to ensure that this issue and this debate receive full deliberation and to ensure that in this very sensitive area we move very cautiously and prudently.